“What I said and stand behind is, war is hell and unfortunately civilians are victims of political conflicts.”
Those words were from the mouth of none other than commedienne Joan Rivers as she made her way through LAX the other day. She was referring to the tragedy unfolding in the Gaza Strip.
That’s right, the same Joan whose is best known for her commentary about red carpet events in Hollywood. I would scarcely pay attention to her on any subject, but she caught my attention this time.
Her words were harsh, but ring truth if you filter out the emotional elements of the subject.
“War is hell” was first spoken by General William T. Sherman, who was best known for his controversial, but effective, tactics in the American Civil War. He also said he would “make Georgia howl” before he embarked on his destructive march to the sea. He understood the concept of total war and its importance in vanquishing a dangerous enemy.
He spoke often about war. “War is hell” happens to be the most remembered of his statements. However, another is more meaningful: “War is cruelty. You can’t refine it.”
I believe we here in the United States and the industrialized world in general developed unrealistic expectations regarding the effects of war. You can partly blame that on the First Gulf War fought in 1991.
We became accustomed to smart bombs and laser-guided ordnance. The large Iraqi army was dispatched quickly, with very light casualties incurred by the Allies.
Events moved rapidly for a conflict of that scale – ground operations lasted only 100 days. The world was so mesmerized by the effectiveness of the General Schwarzkoph’s strategy that there was little time to dwell on the pain suffered by the civilian population of the region.
No official tally of civilian losses was ever released. To my knowledge, there was no serious tabulation attempted. One estimate claims about 13,000 civilian deaths as a direct result of Allied attacks, mostly attributed to the bombing of select facilities in Baghdad and other cities.
By contrast, about 40,000 Iraqi soldiers lost their lives.
The ratio of military to civilian casualties reflected the nature of the combat. Most of it was over open terrain and away from population centers.
The Gaza Strip, on the other hand, provides a completely different backdrop. It is a conflict where Sherman’s definition particularly holds true – it is cruel and cannot be refined. It has also been going on for decades at varying levels of violence
The high ratio of civilian deaths to combatants in Gaza is a direct result of population density and the determination of Hamas to fight in close proximity to nonmilitary facilities. It is a situation that, to some extent, cannot be avoided. It is similar to what has occurred in countless wars. For example, some 50,000 French civilians perished in the combat activities leading up to and through the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War 2. Undoubtedly, a significant share of the casualties was attributable to Allied bombing and shelling.
Few faulted the Allies from doing what had to be done to eliminate the cancer of Nazism, as painful as it was to innocent civilians.
Hamas is a cancer, too….a cancer that wants to spread beyond its present infestation.
Hamas cannot be ignored, especially by Israel who has endured many thousands of rocket attacks. These attacks would have been more deadly had it not been for Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome missile defense system and the technologically primitive design of the incoming rockets.
It is a costly way to fight a determined enemy hellbent on delivering unending salvos of rockets that are intended to terrorize and kill Jews. President Obama just recently authorized $225 million to bolster and replenish the Iron Dome.
Israel manages the system to minimize the costs. According to an analysis published by the Christian Science Monitor, “Iron Dome doesn’t target all rockets fired towards Israel. Since each interceptor costs around $60,000 and many of the crude rockets fired by Hamas and others from Gaza cost as little as $1,000, that would be a quick way to go bankrupt. Instead, radar picks up the trajectory of rockets, and only fires at ones headed for population centers.”
Still, the economics of dealing with Hamas terrorists is high. Think of the financial aid that could go to develop the Gaza Strip were it not for the relentless attacks on Israel perpetuated by a terrorist regime, one that was popularly elected by the Palestinians themselves.
If Israel were deliberately targeting civilians, the death count among the general population would be many times higher. Every shell fired or bomb dropped would kill many dozens of civilians.
If Israel does nothing but target incoming rockets, it will resign itself to endure decades of terrorism. A lifting of the embargo against Gaza will guarantee an unimpeded inflow of rockets and even deadlier arms from countries and factions whose goal is to wipe Israel off the map.
I am afraid the only solution to this ongoing crisis is to make the Palestinians howl, as Sherman would have put it; howl loudly enough to throw Hamas out and install a sensible government willing to work with Israel and the West to develop the nation’s resources.